Polar Vortex Bounces Off Name Brand Gortex
HAE Headquarters West Interim Report on 2014 Winter Expedition To Maine.
(AP) Above deeply wooded Carrebasset Valley to the south and the equally deeply wooded Flagstaff Lake region to the north towers the imposing Bigelow Range. Criss-crossed by spectacular hiking trails the preserved region is a haven for the hiking minded. The allure has brought the HAE snowshoeing team to the area for years. Blanteev is anxious for redemption from previous failed trips, and shows up at the Westborough headquarters on Jan 18th “immediately declaring that any tribute trip to Grafton Notch and Old Speck was not to be considered,” relates an infused Timur Novasch. Caught discussing fantasies of making Ken Burn’s production knock-offs, the silence spoke for the team. Everyone knew that the best, and the last, expedition to the Bigelow Range was about to happen, and the team was going to like it.
There were just one too many things adding up to the greatest conquest of the HAE’s Bigelow exploits since the famed horns expedition. “Look!” boomed the ever out-spoken Vincentoli Blanteev, “we have been all over Grafton Notch & Old Speck. Been there done that.” He sputtered while choking over a pull of brew. McAnus glances over bemusedly from printing some bungee hooks. He knows Timur’s fantasy hike to old stomping grounds was about to be vetoed.
“Ever since HAE switched to January hiking, Mr Bigelow has seen fit to deny us a summit.” The now agitated Blanteev proclaims from the towering height of an enormous soap box. However it was tough for the crew not to nod in affirmation. Bogged down in heavy snow, turned back by un-crossable rivers, caught snacking on a spur trail bucket list leftover, HAE had not managed to get their snowshoes on top of Mr B since the switch to January hiking, and, by golly, it was all lining up this year to put an end to that streak of bad luck.
That the weather was shaping up to be the best sub zero hiking in years is really firing up the crew as they fire up a haebar during the monotonous drive up. It is F-bomb cold out. A huge blast of persistent cold air was parked over the east, a polar vortex plunging temperatures below zero. Arriving at the parking lot deep into a long rough frozen solid slush snow coated road, the team hops out onto snow that feels like a cement floor coated with thick dust. And that was off the trail where the snow is usually loose.
With a sense of urgency the hikers hurtle toward the starting point. Blanteev’s famous lead foot sees the SUV blast by a removed forest service gate and well down a recently graded logging track with numerous signs. “Hey that sign said ‘only huge logging trucks driving like crazy allowed you dumb assed snowmobilers stay off’” Blanteev exclaims as he slides the SUV into a pensive stop. Everybody looked at everybody else as to why HAE was in yet another parking drama. After swearing that another one would never happen again, the team hops out of the vehicle and the slap stick starts.
“Hey push!” Blanteev screams in full scale panic. He has attempted at least an 8 point turn to get out of the jam, and one of those turns quickly pulled the SUV into unpacked snow. The petal is to the metal, but the rental has some newfangled LWWBS4WD (lame wuss wanna be standard 4wd option) that is hardly turning the wheels. After some quick thinking by Brruce, who notices that Blanteev better start turning the wheel a bit more, the truck slides out of the snowmobile track with everyone pushing at once.
Not belaboring the point the team dumps packs right there and the SUV is shuttled back to the parking lot. While unpacking the rental SUV Timor inadvertently slams his hand axe into the snow and it bounces off like a super-ball. Blanteev scrapes his snowshoe on the snow’s surface, the ice bound snow responding with near infinite traction. The polar vortex was interrupted last week by some cold rain in Maine. As that mass of artic air returned with vengeance the rock solid frozen hiking surface was shaping up to be the of the best and fastest hiking that the team has seen in years.
The long hike along the ice coated logging roads is peppered with rants by Blanteev voicing his insecurity about hiking too far passed the Safford Brook Trail by accident, when in fact the team had actually pretty much not hiked any appreciable distance yet. The team soon realizes why said signs were posted on this “graveled road” as they are nearly creamed several times by those very “huge logging trucks driving like crazy” Blanteev is particularly incensed by one incident whereby not a handful of seconds after leaving his rig in the empty track to read a sign, than a logging truck roars down on it and almost squashes it flat. Doing a double take Blanteev is seen diving across the track pulling the doomed sled out from under the jaws of ice trucker tires at the last possible moment.
At the trail head Novasch returns to report that Blanteev read all the signs wrong and that the trail was actually parallel to this brand new huge path they were hiking along. The team presses on and after Timur finishes up being lost in the wood they are locked into the blue blazes and surprised at how quickly the brook is crossed as the team heads directly upward to the notch.
Well maybe not so fast. That was some nice camping woods back there the crew laments as they Bataan Death marched past. Not a few hundred yards further up the trail it is clear that Blanteev expects to camp right now before it gets dark while Novasch thinks we got this trail pegged even in the dark so let’s keep hiking. Reality sets in when it actually starts to get dark and well below zero. Camp is hastily set up near a tributary and that apple cider dragged in is on tap.
It’s -10 below and, in classic HAE style, the question remains “do you know the status of your vapor barrier?” The deep dark Maine woods in January can be a very lonely struggle, Blanteev relates, and stepping out of the blue top shelter was a stark reminder. Crawling into a multi-layered survival system the hiker has stripped numerous layers of clothing and has dived into the bag as a result. Once again the math was not adding up for the beleaguered HAE hiker, not only was a serious call to nature vectoring in, but the subzero air swilling about did not make this a planned trip to the facilities.
“I just started to ramble on in a lost mumble about how my vapor barrier was missing,” relates Blanteev. “I had just flat out cussed.” There were so many things that had just gone wrong since the launch of this expedition. “I expended much energy getting into my survival system, all bundled up only to find out that my vapor barrier is missing.”
Colder than all cold and uncapable of generating enough insulation to hold off the ice cold air, Blanteev makes a desperate subzero gamble. Wondering what happened but knowing for sure it was somewhere, Blanteev had another issue to deal with and booted out to take a dump on a previous cut latrine line. “Upon returning, I found my vapor barrier lying in snow,” Blanteev recalls to the opposition of critics who claim that such gomer-isium is clearly a serious infraction of the HAE expedition survival manual guidelines.
Next day the team lumbers up to the Safford Brook Notch Camp.
Brruce heads directly for the privy but is disappointed to see that it had been thoroughly knocked over.
“There is scant evidence that this vandalism of AT trail assets is thought to be malicious in nature or even deliberate,” Sargent Mount Da Gomerly decried in front of a microphone infested podium. Best we can tell from the forensic evidence, HAE showed up, took a dump sooner than later where else and then split.” Said Colinous Zam Thwapadoor, adjunct advisory spokesmen for the Pristine Wilderness Degradation Society.
Feeling betrayal by the Maine Application Trail Club Volunteer Association he “uses it anyway.” Back at camp Timor is flummoxed at the announcement that the privy was knocked over and useless. But then he is knocked over in outright hysterics listening to McAnus’s sad tale relating how he found the privy knocked over but that McAnus “still used it anyway.”
If there was anyone that was disappointed about the privy being destroyed it was McAnus, who could have used a couple of Imodium pills by now, but had little more than some oatmeal packets. Clearly distraught over the lack of survival planning Blanteev discreetly pours some big shots into the heated cider and happy hour is on. As their return to Safford Brook Notch Camp gets under way, there are some story tellers fixing to tell some grand schemes.
And chief among them was HAE guide and chief technical director Johan Vincentoli Blanteev. I woke up with the sun to take a dump in -10 below weather then painfully stumbled into the shelter where Timur and Brruce were surviving for their lives. Stumbling into the shelter, fully equipped with sub zero survival gear, the shelter let icy air permeate at the slightest whim of the endless wind. Blanteev is not amused with these air leakage issues. “While Novasch and I go hiking, and by the way not that far, McAnus is gonna shovel snow on these sides to cut down the wind” Blanteev points out as they disappear up the trail.
Not soon after clearing the rock tunnel the team locks into the Appalachian Trail. The sign says 2 miles to the summit, and no amount of bitter cold air was going to stop the precession.
Clambering out of a steep section into the arctic tundra the signs have warned the hikers of fragile artic plant life. “We will see just how fragile this so called fragile arctic tundra actually is,’ says Novash as they made their way not “any life demonstrating fragility to the horrifically cold conditions.” Blanteev exclaimed sliding across the rock out of the wind.
It had been a fast peak bag. The cutting wind across the peak was going to make it even faster. At the summit hastily taken photos made way for a full scale descent as the team hustled snowshoes out of there faster than can you say once again I hiked to the top of new England only to have all the pictures screwed up and not taken. Once again the camera crew is so bored that they are infatuated with filming snow and trees….again, Blanteev relates, so we split leaving a trail of chuffed ice snow behind.
“I was astounded,” relates a flummoxed Blanteev, “at how the polar vortex winds made our gortex feel like mosquito netting. “I mean, we got the best gortex stuff from all those big label suppliers. And I am up here on this here peak, the Avery peak of the Bigielows in Maine and this synthetic feels like the wind is not being impeded!”
“We gotta get HAE patches to slap in across all these useless labels,” stated Novasch. To prove their point the team takes the near ultimate ‘no labels’ photograph challenge, nary a label to be found (ok only two). Once again the HAE team has proved that it takes more than nylon or gortex to overcome the polar vortex.
Back at camp the hiking team chuffs in early and tired as expected. They are still astounded at the spectacular snowshoeing conditions. After filming the high speed decent (yes the ascent was too tough to film but the backtrack was easier) Blanteev has been walking around a long time with his down out and feeling like an idiot gommer. Some where just after the alpine decent relates Novasch, Blanteev suddenly decides that the carabineer that he lent him seems to need to be returned. Thing is we are still hiking some tough stuff, and that down jacket is a recipe for being overheated. Blanteev is incensed at his own stupidity but knows what to do. ‘you know if your down layer is getting wet due to sweat… you must immediately remove that layer.” And the video evidence shows that Blanteev was unable to get the down jacket back into the stuff sack again at the ridiculous hiking speed the camera crew was filming terrain, with no breaks in the pace, Vincentoli just wrapped an arm around the huge jacket and vowed to screw up that stinking filming session.
None-the-less, Blanteev insists on returning the carabiner clip, and when he does it is clear that his next bone-head move will be to let that down jacket out in the stuff stack right in the middle of artic wilderness trail. Thwip..thwap!.. the highest quality down jacket explodes out of the compression sack with a snap that dumps a tree full of snow across the tired hikers. Blanteev is now recorded walking around carrying that stupid down jacket. I was fully annoyed that the Timur went into a high speed descend off the peak without nary a break to compose ourselves,” Blanteev shrieks, and he is not about let up, “ Listen you bunch of armchair fantasy commanders, it’s not my fault for not paying attention to the camera crew hitting the fast forward buttons on account of budgetary or storage constraints,” concludes Blanteev.
Rolling back into base camp set up by HAE campmaster Bruce McAnus, the team stands before a big ass pile of scrap wood that Brruce had collected. “Oh goodie… and by the way Bruuce… whats with busting up my 30 year old saw?” laments Blaanteev. Mc Anus is un impressed. “your junk saw busted up right after I applied 10 tons of dumbassed force to it! McAnus exclaims! The team is not buying any of it and also wants to know why a water bottle full of ice has been carelely tossed in a snow bank.
Novasch is looking for a way to head for the hills as he knows what’s in store. “This is un acceptable,” roars Blanteev. “By the powers vested in me by the HAE board of directors, I hearby declare that Brruce McAnus is not been aware the his status as “Adjunct Advisory Associate Advisor to the Consulate Omnibusman Sub Committee funded Chairmanship. He is now been upgraded to the most senior executive status as full hero subzero cult icon. “Who, by the way, has been a survivor since day one of this sub zero hiking!” exclaims Novasch.
Novasch and McAnus have been camping on the platform for days. Bones are starting to hurt. Pressure points, even on multi-layered wads foam. start to form weak points of aching pain. The pressure of being confined to a space less than 10 feet on a side with nylon pyramidal nylon frost coated roof, puts enormous stress on every day skeleton structure and the human body subject to these constraints.
“You know” says Dr Blanteev. “I am a respectable doctor, and you can tell that I am a legitimate doctor because I am wearing a gortex coat, with a large brush axe and holding a clipboard.” the animated HAE hiker points out. “Constriction is a killer.” states experienced sub zero backpacker Blanteev. “When I sleep on my left side pressure compresses my left arm to the point that I can notice circulation is affected. Ditto right side but that side seems much stronger, so it takes longer. But in the center of my back position, I can sense that there is no blood flow constructions. Everyone will notice asymmetry in their body. If you upset that delicate balance at -10 below there will no path for which you will be able to seek tomorrow, or ever.”
Campfire festivities that night consisted of a huge softwood fire that emitted copious amounts of acrid black smoke and jacket perforating embers. At any place at any time around that blaze, one had about two seconds before the wind would shift and blow thick tar-laden smoke deep into your lungs. There was only one answer and that was to head back to the shelters and drop into the survival camping systems, even if it meant ignoring ice coated water bottles carelessly dropped in snow banks or abandonned snowshoes tossed aside like trash.
It has been a tough subzero expedition and clearly HAE has now earned the right to close the books on the Bigelow Mountain Range. The Team packed it all up and headed toward Flaggstaff Lake. After a speedy 2 mile chuff down the Safford Brook Trail followed by the nearly 3 mile trudge on the logging road of fear, HAE was relieved to find the vehicle as they left it. All that was remained of this Half Ass Expedition was the traditional face full of burgers and a 5 hour ride back home.
At HAE Headquarters in Westborough, Massachusetts on January 25, 2014, Blanteev took a long pull of a brew. “Finally, we knocked off Bigelow in January” stated the elder statesman. “Next year,” Blanteev says as he is thumping the map in characteristic fashion, “we are going to do the White Brook Trail… in the 100 Mile Wilderness.”
Brruce looks up. “the hundred mile what?”
Timor shrugs, “yepper, we gonna hire locals with internal combustion engines to get us in there.” His voice trails off. McAnus looks on. “‘yah that’s right,” he continues “gotta find a way to get a ride into the Armitage Region, well beyond the Khatahdin Iron works Road, maybe Greenville… with logging road access,” smiles Novasch.
HAE knows. It is another logging track into the deep Maine woods, and the well equipped sled team is already scheming on hiking out that way; setting up a basecamp and hitting the peak bag. HAE will be expected to be at their best for this next outing.
“Funny,” Blanteev muses, “that every successful winter hike in the deep Maine wilderness leads to a greater subzero adventure tomorrow.”
Blanteev drained his beer and tossed the bottle. Timur let out a belch and McAnus emitted a deep sigh. The gear hadn’t even thawed yet and the team was planning next year’s expedition.